Pakistani Entrepreneurs

OPEN is a nonprofit organization with a focus on helping Pakistani entrepreneurs and professional with personal and business development.   The organization holds about 20 events a year.   The OPEN Forum 2010 will be held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA on June 5th 2010.  OPEN Forum, the flagship conference of OPEN Silicon Valley, annually attracts hundreds of professionals and entrepreneurs from top technology companies, exciting start-ups, global service providers and leading venture firms. This one day conference will give you the unique opportunity to network with and learn from seasoned CEOs, Venture Capitalists, Financial Market Experts, Government Policy Makers and Professionals.

photo by (Davide)




Professor Iqbal Z. Quadir, Founder and Director, The Legatum Center, MIT

Professor Iqbal Z. Quadir is the founder and director of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT and Professor of the Practice of Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT.  In the 1990s, Quadir founded Grameenphone, which provides effective telephone access throughout Bangladesh.  For four years, Quadir taught at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, focusing on the impact of technologies in the politics and economics of developing countries.


Rafiq Mohammadi, CEO, Autonomy Interwoven

Rafiq Mohammadi is leading the Autonomy Interwoven team.  He co-founded iManage, Inc. in 1995. Rafiq also played the role of CTO at iManage, where he was a key member of the team that successfully built the company from a start-up to a profitable and growing publicly traded software company that went IPO within four years.


Faysal Sohail, Managing Director, CMEA Capital

Faysal is an entrepreneur turned venture capitalist.  Today he sits on the Board of A123 Systems, AirTight Networks, Applied Wave Research, Danotek Motion Technologies Inc., Evolution Robotics, Multigig Inc., NEA-IndoUS Ventures, Pyxis Technology Inc., and Symwave, Inc.   He helped build three companies, which became successful either via IPO or through acquisition, including Cadabra Design Automation, which was eventually acquired by Numerical Technologies (NMTC).


Dilawar Syed, PRESIDENT & CEO, Yongja Media Group

Dilawar is President & Chief Executive Officer of Yonja Media Group, an investor-backed emerging markets internet media company.  Founded in 2003, Silicon Valley and Istanbul-based Yonja Media Group operates, Turkey’s first and largest local social network.


Sumaya Kazi, CEO & Editor-in-Chief,

Sumaya Kazi is an award-winning entrepreneur and consultant advising top global brands and startups on new media strategy and implementation.  She is the CEO & Editor-in-Chief of where her team is focused on building the CNN for young professionals worldwide. Sumaya has been recognized by BusinessWeek as one of America’s “Best Young Entrepreneurs,” CNN as a “Young Person Who Rocks,” and by Silicon Valley Business Journal as a “Woman of Influence”.


Safwan Shah, President, Infonox

Most recently, from 1999 to 2009, Safwan Shah was the President of Infonox, a company he founded and then made into a leader in delivering multiple, end-to-end, payment services to casinos, banks, retail and money transfer businesses.


Monis Rahman, Chairman and CEO, Naseeb Networks

Mr. Monis Rahman is Chairman and CEO of Naseeb Networks, a leading provider of recruitment, social networking, classifieds and related services in Pakistan.  Under his leadership, Naseeb Networks launched ROZEE.PK, Pakistan’s most powerful recruiting platform, which is used today by over 27,000 employers, 1.4 Million registered professionals and 85 HEC accredited universities.


Naeem Zafar, Founder, Concordia Ventures

Naeem Zafar is a member of the faculty of Haas Business School at the University of California Berkeley, where he teaches Entrepreneurship and Innovation as part of the MBA program. He founded Concordia Ventures, a company focused on educating and advising entrepreneurs on all aspects of starting and running a business  (


Dr. Ahmad Jan Durrani, Vice Chancellor and Professor of Engineering at LUMS

Dr. Ahmad Jan Durrani is Vice Chancellor and Professor of Engineering at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Pakistan since July 1, 2008.


Umair Khan, Founder and CEO,

Umair is founder and CEO of, one of the fastest growing virtual worlds for children and young adults. Umair Khan is also a Venture Partner with The Entrepreneurs’ Fund (TEFIII), an early stage, software-focused venture fund.  Umair is also founder and chairman of Verisium, a Silicon Valley based software testing tools company, and of Folio3, a services company providing offshore operations incubation to startups and other small companies.


Idris Kothari, VP of Engineering, Vertical Systems Inc

Idris Kothari has 30+ years of experience in the high-tech industry. He co-founded a number of successful Silicon Valley start-ups in Network security, PC Chip-sets and Hospitality Services.


Leila Chirayath Janah, CEO, Samasource

Leila Chirayath Janah first developed the idea behind Samasource while working as a management consultant at Katzenbach Partners (now Booz & Co.), where her clients included global leaders in the outsourcing and telecom sectors and a number of prominent non-profits.


Jeff Clavier, Founder, SoftTech VC

Jean-Francois “Jeff” Clavier is the Founder and Managing Partner of SoftTech VC, one of the most active seed stage investors in Web 2.0 startups. Since 2004, Jeff has invested in more than 70 consumer Internet companies in areas like social media, communities, search, gaming or consumer infrastructure, almost exclusively in Silicon Valley. With over 20 years of operational, entrepreneurial and venture capital experience, Jeff was recognized as one of the 13 “Web 2.0? King Makers, and in 2008, BusinessWeek named him one of “The 25 Most Influential People on the Web”.


Saad Khan, Partner, CMEA Capital

Saad Khan joined CMEA Capital in 2007 as a Partner and is focusing on the firm’s software and Internet investments.


Maurice Gunderson, Senior Partner, CMEA

Maurice Gunderson, Senior Partner, joined CMEA Capital in 2006 to focus on investments in new and innovative energy sources and technologies.  Previously, Maurice co-founded Nth Power, a venture capital firm specializing in investments emerging from the global restructuring of the energy industry.


Osman Rashid, CEO and Co-founder, Kakai, Inc

Osman is a serial entrepreneur who is currently the Co-founder and CEO of Kakai, Inc. Osman has left a strong impact on the world of education as the founding CEO of Chegg.


Rehan Jalil, President, Wichorus

Rehan has over 15 years of technical management and sales experience in telecommunications, networking and multi-core processors.


Omar Khan, Founder,

Founder of, a media aggregation and production company focusing on content delivery on mobile and tablet devices.


Michael Tanne, Founder and CEO, Wink

Michael Tanne has been involved with building search engines for a long time, starting at Verity where he directed product management. He started Wink in 2005, compelled by a belief that people could provide valuable input that would make search better.


Sean Dempsey, Co-founder, Merus Capital

Sean co-founded Merus Capital in November 2007. Previously he was a Principal of Corporate Development at Google, responsible for acquisitions and investments.


Menekse Gencer, Founder mPay Connect

a consulting service for clients seeking to launch mobile payments.   She is the founder of the Mobile Payments Series(TM) initiative which hosts panel discussions and networking events for professionals in the mobile money industry .


Babur Ozden, CEO of Berggi

an internationally acclaimed mobile applications provider (acquired by Avanzit MCE: AVZ); President of DataCert, world’s no 1 provider of legal online billing (acquired by CCH Wolters Kluwer Wolters WLSNC: NA); CEO of LenSec, no 1 provider of web-based video surveillance platform to Public School Districts in the USA; and CEO of Superonline, the most recognized Internet brand in Turkey (acquired by Turkcell NYSE:TKC).


Ethan Casey, Author

of two travel books about Pakistan: Alive and Well in Pakistan (2004, called “magnificent” by Ahmed Rashid and “intelligent and compelling” by Mohsin Hamid) and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip (2010).


Zainab Jeewanjee, Sales Director, Go One Global Corp

Zainab Jeewanjee is Sales Director at the Insurance aggregator Go One Global Corp and heads operations at


Salman Khan, Founder, Khan Academy

Salman Khan is the founder and faculty of the Khan Academy–a collection of 1400+ videos and software that is the most used k-12 and college educational resource on the Internet.


Elon Boms, Founder and Managing Director, Launch Capital LLC

Elon Boms venture capital experience includes structuring bio-tech, consumer products and software development deals; he also has significant finance, consulting and marketing experience.


Ann Miura-Ko, Partner, FLOODGATE

Ann Miura-Ko is a partner at FLOODGATE where her investment interests include the innovations in e-commerce, security, and big data.


Stephen Ciesinski, VP, Corporate Strategic Programs, SRI International

Stephen Ciesinski has overall responsibility for SRI’s commercial R&D business development, international offices, innovation programs, corporate energy and automotive sector initiatives, strategic marketing, and other corporate programs.


Dr Jahanzeb Sherwani, Founder and CEO of iTeleport LLC

Dr Jahanzeb Sherwani is the Founder and CEO of iTeleport LLC, an iPhone startup whose flagship app iTeleport has been among the top 100 grossing apps in both the iPhone and iPad App Stores.


Kate Fiandaca, Recruiter, GreeneSearch

Kate Fiandaca is a technical recruiter with GreeneSearch.


Mark Gorenberg, Managing Director, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners

Mark joined Hummer Winblad Venture Partners in 1990. He has served as a board member for start-up and public software companies, including AdForce, HomeGrocer, NetDynamics, Omniture, Infopia, Lathan, kwiry, Tizor and Scopus Technologies. Currently, he serves as a Director of Aria Systems, Cenzic, Crowd Factory, ontheFRONTIER, Replay Solutions, and Sonatype.


Ellen Shulman, Associate, Lee Hecht Harrison & Career Coach, Careers In Touch

Ellen is an Associate at Lee Hecht Harrison and career coach in private practice at Careers In Touch.


Richard Lowenthal, Founder and CEO, Coulomb Technologies

Richard Lowenthal is the CEO of Coulomb Technologies, which he co-founded in 2007.

Mr. Lowenthal is also a former Mayor of Cupertino, California, and has been heavily involved in the non-profit world.


Prof. Dr Arshad Ali Director General, NUST School of Electrical Engg. and Computer Science

Professor Dr Arshad Ali, Director General, School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (SEECS) is a prolific researcher and academician.


M. Raghib Hussain, Co-founder, Cavium Networks

Raghib has been in high-tech industry for about twenty years. He is one of the founders of Cavium Networks, where he is currently serving as Chief Technology Officer and Corporate Vice President of Software Engineering at.


Wajahat Ali, Playwright, Essayist, Humorist

Wajahat Ali is a Muslim American of Pakistani descent. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and Attorney at Law, whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders” is the one of the first major plays about Muslim Americans living in a post 9-11 America.


Rajesh Setty, Entrepreneur, Speaker, Author, Investor

Rajesh is involved in a few companies in some combination as a founder, operating executive, board member and/or an investor.


Clinton Kicks Off Micro-Lending Service for Hardest Hit Businesses

June 29, 2011 by Diana Ransom

Clinton Kicks Off Micro-Lending Service for Hardest Hit Businesses

The downturn left few businesses unscathed, but those in certain cities got it the worst.

Of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., 20 saw at least 1 percent of their small businesses fail from 2006 to 2008 — representing 15,000 shuttered businesses, according to a new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, an economic research organization.

Former President Bill Clinton reiterated that sober assessment in Chicago today at this year’s annual Clinton Global Initiative. In response, he announced a new program called Kiva City, which is aiming to extend small businesses access to micro-loans in U.S. cities with the greatest need.

The program — which is a partnership between Visa, the San Francisco-based micro-lending non-profit website and ACCION USA, a member of the ACCION Network in the U.S. — gives small businesses access to Kiva’s online community of citizen lenders who make loans of as little at $25. It kicks off today in Detroit. President Premal Shah says “the needs in the U.S. are widespread and many regions simply don’t have micro-finance institutions operating at scale. Now, spurred by Visa’s commitment to small business, we are able to expand our reach and, as a result, open new avenues of capital for small business owners across the country.” Visa provided Kiva with $1 million to get Kiva City off the ground, according to Shah.

Although Kiva had set its sights on bringing microloans to U.S. businesses in 2009, its reach has been limited to certain cities including San Francisco and New York where it has relationships with micro-lending field partners like ACCION USA, the Opportunity Fund and Grameen America. Partner ACCION USA’s influence has also been limited, as the organization is based in New York.

The reason why those organizations can extend their reach today is through the help of Michigan Corps, a network of Michigan community members such as church pastors and business leaders who are both spreading the message of micro-lending and helping business owners fill out the paperwork required to access the microloans.

“Our main problem has always been a lack of awareness,” Shah says. “It’s possible for businesses in many cities to access microloans … but if you’re a small-business owner you might think if microfinance as something that happens in Bangladesh, not the U.S.”

At present, Kiva City is only open to Detroit-area businesses. However, as interested community groups step forward in other hard-hit cities like Cleveland and New Orleans, the program could expand, Shah says.

Goodbye Geeks, Hello Crowd-Sourced Tech Help

9 hours ago by Jonathan Blum

Goodbye Geeks, Hello Crowd-Sourced Tech Hel

Anybody who has ever been stuck waiting as their PC strains to boot up, load programs or even open simple Web pages should know the value of keeping a clean, organized hard drive and up-to-date software.

Unfortunately, few small-business owners have the luxury of an in-house IT department. And even the Geek Squad can get pricey. So as apps age, driver connections erode and storage space dwindles, small-business PCs tend to get weighed down — robbing you of an optimal computing experience.

But rather than paying an IT specialist to whip your computer back into shape, you can now outsource to the cloud for free by way of PC optimization. The D’Iberville, Miss.,-based SlimWare Utilities offers a trio of free products that use the collective wisdom of an entire legion of tech geeks to get your computer back into prime condition.

Here are the details for small-business users:

What Is It:
SlimWare Utilities offers three free-to-download programs that update and optimize your computer’s hardware and drivers to make them run more efficiently. The unique feature here is that these programs learn by crowd-sourcing their recommendations. Users rank programs and other fixes to tell SlimWare which tweaks work and which ones don’t, what a computer needs to have installed and what it doesn’t.

What’s Available:
SlimComputer cleans up new PCs by getting rid of all the pre-installed software that can gum up an otherwise pristine new machine. The program uses crowd-sourced recommendations for which of these programs actually get used and which ones don’t. Un-installed programs are stored in the cloud in case you actually need one of them someday.

SimCleaner uses SlimWare’s crowd-sourced recommendations to analyze and get rid of unneeded files on your computer as well as keep other programs updated. The program analyzes your system’s performance and then streams that information back to the cloud where it can help other users.

SlimDrivers keep drivers for peripherals such as printers and Bluetooth up to date by scanning your PC for those that are missing, broken or out-of-date.

Bottom Line:
While nothing beats an in-house IT team, these tools can certainly help out many a cash-strapped owner aiming to stretch more life out of an old computer. The service takes a few minutes and works reasonably well, especially considering what an IT specialist would charge for an hour of their time.

Simulated Realities, Manipulated Perceptions

Submitted by Caroline Jaine








Twenty years ago, the French philosopher, sociologist and political commentator, Jean Baudrillard wrote an essay entitled “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place”.  Published in French and British Newspapers (Libération and The Guardian), it attracted huge criticism from people like Christopher Norris, who castigated Baudrillard and other postmodern intellectuals for arguing the Gulf conflict was unreal and essentially fictive. Some even labelled Baudrillard “a theoretical terrorist”.  He was not, however, in denial that lives were lost nor that “more explosives were dropped in the two months of the Gulf War than the entire allied air attacks in World War II”. His central issue was one of interpretation and the presentation of the facts through a media lens – his concern was whether these events could be called a war.For Baudrillard, the massive aerial bombardment of Iraq’s military and civil infrastructure was a war stripped of its passions and violence.  Sanitised of foul imagery and “stripped bare by its technicians,” it was then re-clothed by the “artifices of electronics, as though with a second skin”. His argument was that this conflict was won in advance and that as the “war” was presented to the public entirely via the media this provided no real evidence of its existence – “direct transmission by CNN of real time information is not sufficient to authenticate a war”. His point was that the Gulf War “as we have been led to understand it” did not exist.

Unlike the gloss of the Gulf War, twenty years on there is a new preoccupation in society to experience the gruesomeness of war. In 2009, artist Jeremy Deller plucked a bombed-out vehicle from Baghdad’s debris to tour around America – the Guardian wrote that he was putting the violence of Iraq “right under our noses”.  During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, we fed off bloggers like Salam Pax, who gave us the real-time, real-life trauma from Baghdad, and today our on-screen entertainment is often brought to us with the help of war-thirsty embedded journalists – who show us fear, danger, and how close death is.

Now, the Internet brings us as much blood and guts from the world’s trouble spots as we can manage.  We hear of Osama Bin Laden’s death in Pakistan, but we want imagery, we want Osama’s remains, however gruesome.  We want his head.  Only this will make it real. Even inaccessible violence – such as that in the north of Sri Lanka in 2006 – barred from the gaze of media and international organizations – is snapped by camera phones and spread via YouTube.  Like Bin Laden, the Tamil leader Prabhakaran’s caved-in head was clear for us all to see within hours of his death and now the horrors of spilt blood of the Tamil civilians is creeping onto our page.

The sensation of war and violence appears ever attractive to the news viewer.  Whilst Baudrillard made a clear statement about the sanitisation of the Gulf War, the advent of competition between internet and TV news sees a battle for who can dig deeper into vile suffering.  Starving children nolonger move us – the world’s cameras rest upon the bandaged head of a baby after a mortar attack, a limbless child, the close-up suffering of a grieving tear-stained widow.  However, our taste for the ghastly is nothing compared with those in Asia. Even ten years ago the Sri-Lankan press carried a front page photo of a severed head of a suicide bomber (the caption reading “did you know this man”?), and a recent visit to Pakistan revealed that whilst the nation is fed up with being constantly associated with terrorism, its newspapers at home enjoy a continual stream of bombs, murders, and riots.

My recent Pakistani trip took me to the city of Karachi. In preparation, my web research revealed the charred remains of bomb blast victims, graphically recorded assassinations, and news of angry fire-starters.  Even educated people told me I would be likely to be beheaded, kidnapped, and because of my interest in Islam and Pakistan I received hate mail from people telling me that I would be raped and killed (because that is what they do to Christians there).  Nobody at all could be trusted.

To my surprise, the Pakistani city I discovered was bursting with generosity and concern – endless cups of tea and food offerings. Shopping malls that were home to Italian cafes, McDonalds and Next outlets.  People going to work, kids going to school – not all of them to radical militant Madrassas, University students happily chatting and learning, pristine traffic cops efficiently directing traffic, eloquent business people, and young women who told me that “Karachi is a wonderful place to be a woman at the moment”.  Not to mention miles of golden sand overlooking the Indian Ocean – filled with child footballers, bathing families and smiling, waving people whenever I took out my camera.  Even in the Saddar district – a place I had been warned that I would not leave alive – we met many people who were not actually killing each other or engaged in bloody, violent acts.  Mostly they were getting on with their lives – running fruit stalls, sweeping the streets, driving buses.  We even encountered a heavy-set transvestite in a bright red sari, who quipped at my intrigue, “surely they have people like me in your country”?  Pakistan has just become one of the first countries in the world to officially recognize a third gender. We even visited an elegant Catholic Church.  My hunch is you won’t really get to hear about the churches in Pakistan unless they are blown up.

Like Baudrillard, I am not claiming that Pakistan is a country without its fair share of problems.  Nor that Karachi itself is not home to some extreme acts of violence, and even plays host to celebrity terrorists. I am not claiming that explosives have not been loaded into vehicles or strapped to the mentally ill and triggered.  Nor that people have died.  However, the reality of this particular city and its 18 million inhabitants is highly complex and perhaps impossible to present through a single media face. The overwhelming media narrative, fuelled by the discovery of Bin Laden, is that Pakistan is a “hotbed” of evil – which a cynic might claim is a perception equally as manipulated or at best contrived as the media coverage was during the Gulf War.

Baudrillard’s fascination was not with the event of war or truth of it per se – but with both the notion of reality and the erosion of that reality caused by technology and media. Perhaps the view that Pakistan Is Full Of Terrorists is fabricated for our own single-narrative-loving, bloodthirsty pallets – we are simple media consumers addicted to the distraction of disaster.  The French philosopher claimed that humans are naturally drawn towards a simulated version of reality – but has this gone too far? And can we control the simulation? As with the Gulf War, one cannot deny that lives have been lost and explosives done their worst in Pakistan, however, perhaps we should view the country not through the media lens of adrenalin-fuelled foreign correspondents, who tend to embed with Karachi ambulance drivers these days – but through other lenses.  Surely we have the ability to shift that reality, simulated or not.

How To Vet New Product Ideas and Save Time, Money, and Effort

Hello my friends and happy Monday to you. Last week in our Monday guest post, we heard from my friend Mark Newman of HireVue. He shared with us his unique fundraising experience. I received several emails after that post. Some people didn’t like all the details he shared, but most people loved it. I, for one, admired his candor and thought it was very insightful. Give it a read if you missed it and decide for yourself.

This week, we are in for a real treat! One of my favorite Lean Startup entrepreneurs, Ash Maurya, is joining us on the blog today. Ash is a leader in entrepreneurship and the Lean Startup movement. His book, Running Lean, is one of my favorites. I’d highly recommend you read it if you are thinking about a startup or are in one (which should be most, if not all, of the readers here). In the meantime, he has favored us with one of the best guest posts I’ve read on this blog. It really is that good.

Read it, bookmark it, and read it again! Great stuff, Ash. Great stuff. So, without further delay, Ash Maurya and ‘How To Vet New Product Ideas and Save Time, Money and Effort’.
Everyone gets hit by ideas when they least expect them (in the shower, while driving, etc.). Most people ignore them – entrepreneurs choose to act on them. But acting on ideas is not without a cost.

I am not just talking about the physical cost of building and marketing a product but also the more intangible, but in my view, even more important opportunity cost.

Committing yourself fully to a product idea or vision can easily consume months and more realistically years of your life. After years of building products that had varying levels of “market success”, my own mantra has become: Life’s too short to build stuff nobody wants.

We need a better, faster way to vet product ideas so we don’t waste time, money, and effort. Of all these resources, there is no resource more valuable than time. Time is more valuable than money. While money can fluctuate up or down, time only moves in one direction.

This is exactly what the Lean Startup methodology, codified by Eric Ries, is all about. Under this model, a startup (or product) is built iteratively through a series of small experiments designed to quickly inform and guide us on the validity of our assumptions.

I’ve been rigorously applying and testing Lean Startup techniques to my own products and have distilled the essence of the methodology down to 3 steps:

1. Document your Plan A.
2. Identify the riskiest parts of the plan based on the stage and type of your product.
3. Select the right tactics that maximize for speed, learning, and focus.

While these steps are applicable during any stage of the startup, I’d like to illustrate how to apply them during the initial ideation stage.

3 Steps To Vetting New Product Ideas

As entrepreneurs we tend to be more passionate about the solution and often rush into building a product. But building the product always takes much longer than we think. More importantly, all that effort is predicated on the assumption that we know who the customers are, what they want, and how we will monetize the product. We don’t. The real kicker is that we can learn all these things without actually building the product.

Step 1: Document Your Plan A

The first step is documenting your business model assumptions. There is no substitute to writing this stuff down. Too many founders carry these assumptions in their heads alone which, while the fastest way to iterate, creates a self-fulfilling ‚ reality distortion field:

Reasonably smart people can rationalize anything but entrepreneurs are especially gifted at this.

There are several techniques for capturing your initial plan. Business Plans have traditionally been used for this purpose. While the intent of business plan writing is sound, taking several weeks or months to write a 60-page business plan largely built on untested assumptions (guesses) is a form of waste.

The Business Plan is a document investors make you write that they don’t read.
- Steve Blank

More importantly, since most of these assumptions are likely to be proven wrong anyway, you need something less static and rigid than a business plan.

My tool of choice for documenting my assumptions is creating a one-page business model using the Lean Canvas format. Lean Canvas is my adaptation of Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas as is shown below:

It captures the essence of your business model on a single page and serves as a powerful tool for pinpointing what you don’t yet know i.e. the riskiest part of your model. You can learn more about it here.

Step 2: Identify the Riskiest Part of the Model

While what you consider risky may vary by product, one of the risks you always need to tackle first is “problem risk” i.e. determining whether your “problem is worth solving” in the first place. If the problem isn’t worth solving, spending any amount of effort overcoming other risks like technology risk through great feats of engineering are all forms of waste.

A “problem worth solving” boils down to three questions:

1. Is it something customers want? (must-have)
2. Can it be solved? (feasible)
3. Will they pay for it? If not, who will? (viable)

Step 3: Maximize for Speed, Learning, and Focus

The fastest way to learn is not by building the product, or running a survey/focus group, but conducting problem interviews with potential customers. A problem interview is a special kind of interview where you decouple the problem from your solution and focus on truly understanding just the problem first.

You are specifically looking to answer the following questions:

1. Who has the pain? (Customer Segment)
While we would all like to build mainstream products, starting there is a mistake. Read/re-read Geoffrey Moore’s book: “Crossing the Chasm” where he describes the customer adoption curve and makes a compelling case for focusing your initial efforts on establishing a beach-head with early adopters. It is far more effective to focus all your efforts on a smaller, more passionate, sub-segment of customers first.

During the interviews you are looking to find early adopters and eventually be able to articulate the qualifying attributes that define them.

2. How do customers rank your problems? (Problem)
During the interview, you need to gauge the customer pain level towards your set of problems: must-have, nice-to-have, or don’t-need. You are ideally looking for a strong must-have resonance but beware that people inadvertently lie with this question. You still need to ask them the question but verify their answers by way of probing deeper in the next section.

3. How do customers solve these problems today? (Alternatives)
A lot of entrepreneurs/investors misplace attention on competition early on.

Your competition is driven by your customers – It’s not who you think they are, but who your customers think they are.

Your true competition is best revealed by exploring how customers solve your problems today. Often, they are not who we think. As an example, the most common alternative to an online collaboration tool is not another collaboration tool, but email. Doing nothing could also be a viable alternative for a customer if the pain is not acute enough.

Understanding your customers existing alternatives not only reveals your competition but is also how you verify their problem rankings from earlier. For instance, if a customer ranked your problem as a must-have earlier but then later tell you they aren’t actively doing anything to solve this problem, there is a disconnect.

After a number of problem interviews, you should be in a much better position to gauge whether you have a problem worth solving or not. It’s perfectly okay and expected of you to refine the problems along the way. Armed with a prioritized problem list and refined early adopter definition, you are then much better equipped to formulate a solution.

Preemptive Strikes and Other Objections

Some obvious concerns often raised with this methodology is the “qualitative” nature of this learning. People often cite the lack of statistical significance, or that customers don’t know what they want.

Let’s visit each:

Lack of Statistical Significance

Your initial goal is getting a strong signal (positive or negative) which typically doesn’t require a large sample size.

A strong negative signal indicates that your assumptions most likely won’t work and lets you quickly abandon or refine it. If 5 out 5 customers tell you they don’t a problem, that’s pretty signficant!

On the other hand, a strong positive signal also doesn’t necessarily mean it will scale up to statistical significance either. But it gives you permission to move forward until it can be verified later through quantitative data.

Customers Don’t Know What They Want

Your job is not asking your customers for a list of features. Rather it’s understanding how customers perceive and solve your articulated problems today. Your real job as the entrepreneur is to turn that understanding into a compelling product.

There Are No Silver Bullets

No methodology can guarantee success. But a good methodology provides a feedback loop for continuous improvement and learning that helps raise your odds for success.

The key point to drive home is that finding a “problem worth solving” is the first step for vetting new product ideas and you can almost always do this without building the product which saves you time, effort, and money.

9 Rules for Building Meaningful Relationships

By Jon Giganti

Hey, it’s Monday here on The Entrepreneurs Blog! That means we have another solid guest post for your enjoyment. Last week, we heard from Mick Hagen. Mick actually just announced today on Twitter that he is going to be launching a new startup soon. That’ll be cool to watch. His post last week, ‘The Fear of Failure’ was quite the motivator. Great to see him practice what he preached in that post. Go get em’ Mick!

This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Jon Giganti. Jon is the founder of 1440, a site dedicated to helping others achieve optimal performance in work and life. He has twelve years experience working in business development, primarily selling technology solutions to Fortune 500 companies. In his spare time, he’s the VP of Development for a Columbus-based non-profit, Creative Living, which provides independent living for adults with spinal cord injuries. Jon’s writing has been published on GTD Times, a popular site dedicated to all things GTD (Getting Things Done). A former division one college soccer player, Jon is also a CrossFit enthusiast and marathon runner.

So, without further adieu, enjoy the Monday guest post by Jon Giganti: 9 Rules for Building Meaningful Relationships.
“It’s not personal, it’s business.”

This quote bothers me (hence, the line through it). I cringe when I hear Donald Trump say this, or anyone else for that matter. It’s so old school. I’ve been through many a sales training that talks about keeping relationships with clients purely professional. The “experts” say that getting too close to your client (or even colleagues) will hurt your ability to do business. They say that, especially in sales, your negotiations will be impacted in a negative way the closer you are to someone. This is ridiculous. The better, more personal relationship you have with someone, the easier it is to have difficult conversations. Mutual respect and trust is already built. You will find ways to make any situation a win-win, or even increase the pie. How?

On to the rules.

1. Build Relationship Capital When you invest money, what happens? For the most part, it grows. The more you put in, the more it grows over time. The same goes for relationships. You give before you get. The more you invest, the more you’ll be able to receive from the relationship. Of course, sincerity is key. Don’t give just to get.

2. Listen First The saying goes, “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Stephen Covey, in 7 Habits, talks about seeking to understand before being understood. Live this. People love to talk, especially about themselves. Listen to their stories. Ask questions. Open ended, mostly. Your time will come to talk.

3. Build Trust Early The earlier you can build trust, the better off you’ll be. Deliver when you say you’re going to. Be sincere. Look for problems you can solve. Listen. These will significantly impact the trust you’ll build and the fruits of your labor will pay off in the long run.

4. Pick Up the Damn Phone In today’s technology-driven society, communication is becoming more and more electronic. While efficient and a really positive step in the scale of relationships, it makes it tough to build those trusted relationships that are built with live conversations. Next time you go to send an email to someone, think about picking up the phone instead. It’s usually a brief conversation (many times shorter than the time it takes to compose an email). You know what’s even better? Meet with them in person. In the office, with a friend, go see a client.

5. Be Proactive Is there someone you’ve always wanted to meet? Don’t be afraid to reach out. You’d be surprised at the response you’ll get. My friend Scott was shopping for an engagement ring for his future wife and sent a letter to Warren Buffett asking for his advice (Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns a jewelry store). Scott received a letter back the next day, personally from Mr. Buffett. He got to meet him live at one of Berkshire’s annual meetings and it’s now a staple of his yearly travel.

6. Break Bread This is such a great way to get to know people. The favorite part of my job in business development is entertaining and going out to a nice dinner (the steaks and wine are an added plus!). This is where relationships are solidified and you get to know someone more intimately. Don’t be too business-focused in out of the office situations like this. No one likes someone who can’t break away from the business talk.

7. Follow Up Quickly Under promise, over deliver. Live this. Even if you know you can get something to someone by the end of the day, commit to getting something in the next couple of days. This way, when you follow-up later in the day, you’ve exceeded their expectations. Or, how about after a meeting? A quick email (same day) to say thanks. Better yet, send a handwritten thank you note. This will go a long way toward separating you from the pack.

8. Ping Often Five conversations that are ten minutes long are more valuable than one fifty minute conversation. Consistent contact builds trust and momentum. Find ways to reach out to customers and colleagues. An article that may be of interest or a link to site about a competitor are great ways to accomplish this. In today’s world, doing this is simple. Take the time!

9. Don’t be the Networking Schlep You’ve met these people. It’s like a gun fight. As soon as you meet them, they pull out their business card. Don’t be that person. Connect with people, but don’t make it superficial. Don’t spend too much time with one person. Work the room. If you meet one person, don’t be afraid to introduce them to someone else you’ve met. I’ve found that connecting two people who don’t know each other is one of the most rewarding things I can do.

We need to flip the motto mentioned at the start of this post. What about “It’s not business, it’s personal.” Why not? As I said, the more trust that’s developed in any relationship, the more meaningful and mutually beneficial it will be. Think about your relationships.

Are you building them the right way?

The Fear of Failure

It is another Monday here at The Entrepreneurs Blog and that means another guest post from a unique and interesting person. Last week we heard from John Greathouse in his post Ten Rookie Startup Mistakes YOU Won’t Make. That post resulted in the most clicks on Twitter of any we have had here at TEB. I highly recommend you read that post and the others HERE – they are full of brilliant information and advice.

Our guest this week, Mick Hagen, does a fantastic job of continuing the tradition of great Monday guest bloggers. Mick is the cofounder of — a fast growing education company started out of his Princeton dorm room, now with more than 70 employees and offices in three locations. Mick is a frequent speaker at industry events and has had writing featured in various magazines, including Fortune Magazine. He’s a v100 member (Top 100 Entrepreneur in Utah) as well as a “40 under 40? entrepreneur by Utah Business Magazine. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son. You can read his blog at or follow him on twitter at @mickhagen

With that introduction, take a read. Here is a post by Mick Hagen – “The Fear of Failure”
I was lucky enough to make the varsity basketball team my freshman year in high school. It was a dream come true. Overnight, I got all the attention and popularity a young 15-year old can handle before the head explodes.

I knew I wouldn’t get much playing time in the varsity games but I wasn’t afraid to be aggressive in practice. I wanted to help the team the best I could.

There was a Senior on the team who was a really good player. He played college ball and went on to play professionally overseas. Unfortunately, he was also a major jerk.

This Senior made basketball practice a living nightmare for me.

If I turned the ball over — he’d yell at me. If I missed a jumper — he’d yell at me. If I got stuffed taking the ball to the rack — he’d yell at me. He got on my case for every little mistake I made. I quickly became just a warm body out on the court — just taking up space. I’d get the ball and look to pass immediately. I was afraid to even just dribble. I didn’t wanna get yelled at. My nickname became “not-a-factor.” Everyone knew I wasn’t gonna try anything.

I was terrified of doing anything wrong. I was afraid to fail.

I hear of this type of thing happening far too often. Teams. Groups. Organizations. Companies. Whatever. Doesn’t matter what the setting or industry or profession — it happens all the time. You aggressively go out on a limb to create something remarkable. You take a risk. You attempt the impossible or unproven.

There’s just one small problem…it doesn’t pan out. It doesn’t work.

It fails.

The Senior (maybe a manager, a coworker, a teammate, a boss) isn’t pleased. He gets on your case. He says things like, “How ’bout we just stick to what we know works” or “Let’s get more data or do more research before we try something like that again.”

You keep trying new things but the resistance grows stronger with each failed attempt. You become discouraged, disappointed, disheartened. Though not always explicit, the message becomes loud and clear: stop trying new things. So you do. You stop attempting. You stop pushing the envelope.

Boo. Boo. Boo. Triple boo.

Any environment where creativity, innovation and calculated “risk taking” isn’t embraced is an environment from which you should run far, far away. There won’t be progress. There won’t be happiness. Just static nothingness. Paper pushing all day. Bleh.

Everyone gives lip service to letting their team try new things. The true test isn’t in how the organization responds to the idea of innovation and creativity. Rather, it’s how the organization responds to failure. Does your organization embrace failure like it does victory? Does the team feel encouraged to try, try and try again — even when previous attempts failed?

There’s no easy solution if you’re caught in this rut of an environment. You can either quit and find a better environment or you can keep persisting. Keep going. Keep trying. Keep believing. You may not be the oldest. You may not be the most experienced. You may not be the smartest. The one thing that you do have that most don’t: the guts to try. Most people are content watching from the sidelines or bleachers.

You be the Man in the Arena.

I’m reminded of this with a special bookmark I have. My father gave it to me while in high school. It’s a simple index card etched with the handwritten words, “Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of being special.”

Embrace your failures. Let them pepper your path to greatness.

CSR – Pakistan

Award Ceremony at Standard Chartered Bank for team Gizelle for completion of the largest CSR media project in the country at JIAP Karachi

Mosaic, young Muslim entrepreneurial training